More Fire at MoCA: An Art Museum Without Artists [UPDATE]

by Whitney Kimball on July 16, 2012 · 2 comments Newswire

Barbara Kruger and Catherine Opie

MoCA’s controversial forced resignation of Paul Schimmel can officially be upgraded to SOS. In a series of open letters and public resignations, MoCA board members have spent the past week letting the museum know what they think of its decision.

Last week, we mentioned the robotic op-ed founding chairman Eli Broad wrote for the LA Times,  touting Jeffrey Deitch’s ability to turn the museum’s finances around. The museum “needed a director who could create exhibitions that would dramatically increase attendance,” Broad said, and “Schimmel is a brilliant curator, but the board members recognized the director’s right to put his own team together.”

Some of the museum’s other trustees, though, have since come out with differing takes on Deitch’s “celebrity-driven program.” Four lifetime trustees wrote to the L.A. Times last Wednesday to complain that:

MOCA has not shepherded its finances well; it has overspent and is now paying the price. But bringing down expenditures does not mean bringing down the caliber of its exhibitions as well.

A number of artists on MoCA’s board have gone one step further, resigning from the board entirely. John Baldessari stepped down last Thursday, followed yesterday by Barbara Kruger and Catherine Opie. Kruger and Opie wrote (yet another) letter to the L.A. Times, in which they wonder if their “position on the Board is just symbolic[.]” Like Baldessari, Christopher Knight, Jerry Saltz, and museum trustees—nearly everyone who’s weighed in aside from Deitch, Broad, and the board’s co-chairs—they assert that this Schimmel’s firing is symptomatic of a poisoning market. They write:

…this is not about a particular cast of characters, about good actors and bad. It’s a reflection of the crisis in cultural funding. It’s about the role of museums in a culture where visual art is marginalized except for the buzz around secondary market sales, it’s about the not so subtle recalibration of the meaning of “philanthropy,” and it’s about the morphing of the so-called “art world” into the only speculative bubble still left floating (for the next 20 minutes). Can important and serious exhibitions receive funding without a donor having a horse in the race? Is attendance a sustaining revenue stream for museums? Has it ever been? These are questions we have been asking.

That makes seven trustees to leave MoCA in the past five months. Ed Ruscha, who is out of the country, remains the final artist-trustee to sit on the board. UPDATE: The LA Times reports that at 8:23 his morning, Ed Ruscha’s wife Danna posted a Facebook comment announcing that Ed Ruscha has resigned. On Christopher Knight’s recent op-ed highlighting the critical role of artists on the board, she added: “‎Christopher Knight, Ed has resigned. i guess they haven’t announced it yet.” There are now no artist-board members at MoCA.

After sending the resignation letter, Opie reported that she was not even consulted about the resignation of Paul Schimmel, education program manager Aandrea Stang, and several longtime curatorial assistants. “The fact that there was no phone call to us—no heads-up about Paul and all of the other people let go—is troubling,” she was quoted in the L.A. Times.

The New York Times finally cared to weigh in, after two very conspicuous weeks of silence. They didn’t get the quote we’d hoped from Schimmel. They did speak to John Baldessari, who pointed to the Deitch program’s “kind of entertainment mentality — this way of putting something up the flagpole to see who salutes.” He indicates that Deitch is planning an exhibition about “the influence of disco culture on the visual arts and performance art.” We imagine him wincing over the phone.

“MOCA was going to become something else, whether I liked it or not,” he told the Times. “It also makes me think that I’m a dinosaur, and Jeffrey Deitch and his ideas may be the future. But I don’t like it.”


andrew July 16, 2012 at 3:16 pm

Before it closed, Jeffrey Deitch’s Gallery had devolved over the decade into the worst major commercial gallery in New York. It appears he is now working his magic in Los Angeles.

Brian Sherwin July 17, 2012 at 7:59 am

I suppose now a living artist won’t be shown at MOCA unless he or she has celebrity connections OR happens to be a celebrity dabbling in visual art.  Seriously, look at most of the artists Deitch was involved with… they were either related to Hollywood celebrities OR friends with celebrities.

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